Erased from Space and Consciousness: Israel and the Depopulated Palestinian Villages of 1948

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Hundreds of Palestinian villages were left empty across Israel when their residents became refugees after the 1948 war, their lands and property confiscated. Most of the villages were razed by the new State of Israel, but in dozens of others, communities of Jews were settled-many refugees in their own right. The state embarked on a systematic effort of renaming and remaking the landscape, and the Arab presence was all but erased from official maps and histories. Israelis are familiar with the ruins, terraces, and orchards that mark these sites today-almost half are located within tourist areas or national parks-but public descriptions rarely acknowledge that Arab communities existed there within living memory or describe how they came to be depopulated. Using official archives, kibbutz publications, and visits to the former village sites, Noga Kadman has reconstructed this history of erasure for all 418 depopulated villages.

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1 Depopulation, Demolition, and Repopulation of the Village Sites

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ON THE EVE of the violent events of 1948, the Arab population of British Mandatory Palestine amounted to 1.2 million, of them 850,000 within the borders of what is today recognized as the State of Israel proper; they constituted the great majority of the population of that area. Arab-Palestinian society of the time was largely agricultural, with some two-thirds of the Palestinian population before the war living in villages. Most of the Arab workforce in 1947 in Palestine worked in agriculture.1 On their land the Arab villagers cultivated nearly ten thousand acres of orchards, mostly citrus fruit (on the coastal plain) and olives (in the mountainous areas), as well as figs, grapes, deciduous fruits, and bananas. In the rest of the cultivated area the villagers grew vegetables, legumes, and grains.2

Most of the residents of Arab villages in Palestine were Sunni Muslim, with Christian, Druze, and Shi‘ite minorities present. The majority of the villages stood on hilltops, often built on top of, or in continuation of, much older settlements. In the mountain areas the houses were usually made of stone, and in the coastal plain houses were often constructed of mud.3 In the twentieth century, with the citrus boom, quality of life in the plain improved, and more modern houses began to appear. Every village typically had public structures for religious and social purposes, and later on schools were set up, usually in the largest building in the village.4

 

2 National Identity, National Conflict, Space, and Memory

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NATIONAL IDENTITY ATTACHES its bearer to a “nationality”—a defined political community driven by an ideology of social and territorial exclusivity. National identity evolves and consolidates through a prolonged and intricate process, involving a host of cultural and political forces grappling to shape its character. Part of the process is the creation of a hegemonic narrative that describes the history of the nation, establishes the link between the nation and the territory that it claims, stresses its uniqueness and unity, charts out its shared goals and mission, and cultivates the values and norms by which this nation abides. The national ideas expressed in the narrative are communicated to society through art (literature, painting, poetry), mass media, the education system (especially in the subjects of history and geography), and holidays and rituals. These fields of discourse and practice are performed by different institutions—governmental, social, political, and cultural—that bring nationalism into daily life, thus cultivating the individual’s identification with national ideas and reinforcing his or her national identity.1

 

3 The Depopulated Villages as Viewed by Jewish Inhabitants

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Families came from a house of ‘Olim [new Jewish immigrants] / to the abandoned village—true pioneers / demolished the houses, repaired the wrecks / cut paths through the prickly pear cacti growth.

—Segal, Kerem Maharal 1949–1979: 30 Years to the Moshav

IN THE FIRST few years of its existence, Israel carried out a large-scale settlement project, establishing hundreds of Jewish communities on lands of depopulated Palestinian villages, dozens of them in the built-up area of the villages. Research done for this book suggests that the previously built-up area of 108 depopulated villages—over a quarter of the total number of villages—is partly or completely located within Jewish communities nowadays. In 25 villages, Jewish agricultural communities were established within the built-up area of the villages, some using the actual village homes and buildings and some built on top of the ruins. In 19 other villages, Jewish agricultural communities occupy part of the villages’ built-up area. Some were originally established on parts of the village site, and others have been expanded to include it over the year; an additional 64 depopulated villages lie today within Jewish towns or cities. In addition, 23 depopulated villages border on Jewish agricultural communities, of which 19 were built after the villages were depopulated. The lists of all those villages and the Jewish communities that include them can be found in appendix A, along with a map presenting their locations across the country.

 

4 Naming and Mapping the Depopulated Village Sites

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What is the name of this place? A few years ago there was a place and it had a name. The place is lost and the name is lost. What is left? At first, a name torn out of a place. Soon, that, too, is erased. Neither place nor name. . . .

—S. Yizhar, “The Silence of the Villages,” Stories of a Plain

NAMING A PLACE and presenting it on a map is an acknowledgment of its presence in the landscape, its historical importance, and its cultural significance. Most of the sites of depopulated Palestinian villages were never granted an official name in Israel, even though the traces of many still remain in the landscape, and despite the Israeli pretension of naming any geographical object in sight, including ruins. Even where names were given to village sites, in most cases the Arab name was not recognized: if the Arab name preserved a biblical name, that earlier name was restored as the official name; in other cases, village sites were given Hebraized names, which usually ignored the content of the Arab names and the cultural world that they reflect. Sometimes the new names were even devoid of any meaning in Hebrew.

 

5 Depopulated Villages in Tourist and Recreational Sites

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NEARLY ALL THE depopulated Palestinian villages were demolished in order to erase them from the landscape. However, most of the village sites are located today in open areas, and in many some remains of the village can be seen.1 Over the years, in many of these areas forests were planted, parks were established, national parks and nature reserves were declared, and hiking paths were paved. Today, the previously built-up area of almost half of the depopulated Palestinian villages (182 out of 418) is included within tourist and recreational sites, such as JNF forests and parks, nature reserves, or national parks run by the Israel Nature and Parks Authority (INPA), marked hiking trails signposted by the SPNI, and privately operated tourist sites. A full list of the villages and the recreation sites that came to include them can be found in appendix A, along with a map showing their locations across the country.

Many of the village sites have thus become accessible to the Israeli public, and therefore many encounters between Israelis and the villages take place during hiking and sightseeing. Unlike the symbolic encounter through reading a name or a map, these encounters are a tangible, physical experience. For most Israelis, who were born after the villages had been demolished, the first and only physical encounter with the villages occurs when they come across their remains. This encounter is mediated by the authorities who maintain the nature and recreation sites.

 

Conclusion: The Remains of the Past, A Look toward the Future

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THE LOWER GALILEE VILLAGE of Saffuriyya had over four thousand residents in 1948. In July of that year the village came under aerial bombardment and artillery attack by the IDF, which led most of its residents to flee, including the village’s armed defenders. The following year the villagers who remained were expelled. Some of the village refugees today live in nearby villages, and others live beyond Israel’s borders, mostly in Lebanon.1 The houses of the village were razed to the ground, and only a few public buildings remain. In 1949 a moshav was established next to the village site, on its land, by Jewish immigrants from Turkey and Bulgaria. A forest was planted over part of the village site by the Jewish National Fund. The rest was declared a national park by the Nature and Parks Authority, with the aim of preserving the site’s ancient history and the traces of the Jewish center that had existed there in the Roman period.

The official name given to the site where Saffuriyya stood was Tzipori—the ancient name of the place, preserved in the Arabic variant. The same name was also given to the Jewish moshav built nearby. The official Israeli map shows the village site with marks signifying a ruin and ruined houses, and a caption—Tzipori National Park. The signage at the JNF forest on the site mentions a convent that remains from the village, but not the village itself. The national park signs refer to the remains of the village and describe it as “small and miserable” for most of its days. The text is oblique as to the circumstances of the village’s depopulation, stating curtly that the village was conquered and “ceased to exist,” and that its residents “moved out.” The information leaflet handed to the park’s visitors speaks of the village only in the context of battles and conquest. It says that “gangs” inhabited the village, and that it was later conquered and “abandoned by its dwellers.” A publication by moshav Tzipori describes its own establishment as a revival of the local Jewish community on the site, after temporarily providing a home to Muslims who brought about its decline. The Arabic name of the village is absent from the text, which states that the village was conquered after its residents “ran for their lives.”

 

Appendix A. Maps and Lists of the Depopulated Palestinian Villages

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Maps 1–2. Palestinian villages depopulated following the War of 1948, within the boundaries of the State of Israel.

Source: The maps were produced by the author, with the assistance of Yuval Drier Shilo.

Notes:

· Every village is assigned a number that represents it on all of the following maps. The numbering of the villages runs from northwest eastward and southward and refers to their built-up area.

· The maps and the tables that follow include villages referred to by Khalidi (All That Remains): villages depopulated during the War of 1948 and its aftermath, which had permanent structures; they do not indicate areas from which Bedouins were uprooted in the South.

Table 1. Key to Maps 1–6.

Number in map

Village name

1

Abil al-Qamh

2

al-Zuq al-Fawqani

3

Khan al-Duwayr

4

al-Shawka al-Tahta

5

al-Sanbariyya

6

al-Khisas

7

al-Manshiyya

8

Hunin

 

Appendix B. Official Names Given to Depopulated Palestinian Villages by the Government Names Committee

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Table 11. Depopulated Palestinian villages whose official name is the name of the preceding ancient site.

Table 12. Official names given to sites of depopulated Palestinian villages due to sound resemblance to the Arabic name.

Table 13. Depopulated Palestinian villages whose original name was officially recognized by Israel.

Table 14. Depopulated Palestinian villages whose official name was based on a translation of their original name.

Table 15. Non-official names of depopulated Palestinian villages, which appear on official maps.

 

Appendix C. Mapping the Depopulated Palestinian Villages over the Decades

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Map 7. From Ramla Sheet (no. 9), Survey of Palestine, British Mandate, 1946, 1:100,000.

Source: © 2015. All rights reserved to the Survey of Israel. Maps 7–9 were printed by permission of the Survey of Israel.

Map 8. From Ramla Sheet (no. 9), Survey of Israel, the State of Israel, 1954, 1:100,000.

Map 9. From Beit Shemesh Sheet (no. 11-1), Survey of Israel, 2003, 1:50,000.

 

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